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“The show Entourage—its cartoony characters, its gluttonous spectacle, its frat bro brand of storytelling—didn’t take itself seriously enough, wasn’t solemn enough; it didn’t hit us over the head with how cynical and superficial and sleazy and wicked Hollywood could be, you know?” said not one person ever. But Ray Donovan, a new drama from Showtime following a fixer for the stars offers viewers a familiar landscape only to obfuscate it with broad strokes of grey. Waking up besides a corpse and epileptic blow jobs are shades of grey, right? Surely, surprise Black brothers have to be. And just like that, Showtime rolls out a muted, darker version of tinsel town. From quite early in the first episode, Ray Donovan, as a series, thoroughly establishes the texture we’ve come to expect from these premium serial experiences, almost to a fault. But Ray Donovan, as a man, played heroically by Liev Schreiber, is a compelling centerpiece to something that could just as easily be a convoluted mess of Hollywood navel gazing.

Luckily, Liev and company find ways to convince us all to stare into the belly of the beast, past the standard L.A. fare, into the violently dysfunctional, Boston-bred Donovan clan. Moments of Schreiber with a bloodied bat or Jon Voigt as the goonish Papa Donovan bridge the gap between what’s expected from two marketable names and potentially remarkable, transcendent performances. Schreiber’s dialogue is purposefully sparse in the premiere episode, he floats through this world as it gradually builds around him, but when he does speak, it’s curt and honest. He’s as jaded as you’d expect the West Coast Olivia Pope to be, but his values like his accent like his ostensibly dirty rags to filthy riches origin story anchor him to another world. But what this introduction teaches us about Donovan is that he likes it here, despite this scowls and incompetent clientele. Whether it’s the wealth or his family or his status there’s something Ray is going to fight to keep, just as he undoubtedly fought to achieve it. Still something, someone will eventually challenge it all.

Donovan warns of his father’s impending arrival throughout much of the first half of the episode: “You let him near this family, everything we worked for, everything we built, it’ll be over.” As with all successful men and emotionally broken women in television (two standards for the price of one!), daddy issues abound. Voigt’s ability to maneuver the cliché into a viable antagonist remains to be seen. But it’s clear that he’s seething with resentment towards his big shot son and has the means and skill set to make some interesting things happen going forward. This along with the welcome home eight-ball he snorts with the addict son and the boxer son he fathered with a woman that wasn’t Diahann Carroll (but a man can dream, can he?), either shoots him up the shortlist for father of the year or drives home the point that this is a family show. A show about men—fathers and sons and brothers—and what it truly means to be one.

So maybe the Entourage comparison was a bit short-sighted. Maybe this is more like Californication—aiming to be more mature, smarter, realer than its locale. Or The Sopranos—Ray and his wife are fairly Tony and Carmela-esque with the duplicitous East Coast past to boot. Either way, it’s difficult to call Ray Donovan anything exceptionally refreshing or new. It’s a safe and familiar, but there’s definitely a lot of room here to do something familiar exceptionally well.

Note: Julian from One Tree Hill guest stars in the premiere. Acting and stuff. Yeah. For real.

Meagan Good (pictured above) is featured prominently in these early episodes of the new season of Californication and her presence solicits certain questions as to the direction of the series. On the surface she provides eye candy akin to many of the past guest features in this series – Carla Gugino and Addison Timlin made appearances just last season. But this season, Good’s accompanied by a plot line that invokes the main protagonist’s understanding of Black people or lack thereof.

For the most part, it’s a familiar plot: There’s a career opportunity on the line and Hank’s a bit reluctant to accept; whether because of artistic integrity or personal conflict or simply a predisposition to being as difficult as Showtime needs him to be. Either way Hank Moody doesn’t want to write (read: do) what is expected of him and this leads to conflict – the punch to the face kind and the socio-metaphysical identity crisis sort. Par far course with the show.

What’s different this season is not that the main characters have to acknowledge race – when Michael Ealy was making the sex with Moody’s baby’s mother we were reminded often that he was black, just as when Hank and his best friend Charlie Runkle say “nigga” we’re forcibly reminded that they’re not – the difference now is that the show seems to be flirting with the notion of doing more, perhaps being more than just a pale image of Bukowski’s magnum opus Women, with solid laughs and the once-improbable Agent Mulder as the face.

The series, Californication is still very much like the novel, Women, in that despite how it may seem, these two works are unabashedly about masculinity, men. Not LA life. Not being a writer. Not women. Not gender relations, adulthood, parenting, or sex. But men, and everything else only inasmuch it relates to masculinity. Hank Moody like David Duchovny like Chinaski like Buckowski exists comfortably in the space of masculinity etched out by the successes of feminism and the rise of more developed and varying roles for women in society. The novelty of all this is that he actively keeps fucking them, (and fucking with society, man.) He has sex with lawyers and actresses and teachers and students and wives and mothers and daughters. And through living this kind of superficial man’s fantasy, we’re exposed to what real men experience and endure: being a father, being in love, dealing with work, being a friend, failing – like a man.

But back to Ms. Good. Meagan Good is the type of actress you wish read more bell hooks when you see the sort of roles she subsists on but somehow you suspect that she’s intimately familiar with the tragedies of Toni Morrison with how she carries herself on screen, enigmatically seductive. She’s a black woman and plays them on television without hesitation. What she does for Californication is force a show that’s been about men to be more explicitly about white men. Race like the word “nigga” has been the punchline to a joke for Hank Moody and company since the series premiere in August 2007. Now in season 5, the show-runners want to see where this can go. Bukowski didn’t. He stayed tucked away in Los Angeles until his death in 1994, a time where race relations were boiling over most vehemently but a locale where ignoring it is most persistent, and he remained a curmudgeonly old white man until the end, a literary Archie Bunker. What gives Hank Moody the right to live in 2012, compliment a sexy Black woman on the fullness of her lips, have sincere conversations with brothas about their contrasting world views, and still maintain the mystique of a brash, intellectual non-conformist drunkard? It’s a tall older surely for a show past this far into its run. The RZA’s brick-like performance alone would leave anyone a bit skeptical.

Management consultants aren’t traditionally good people. The Martin Kihn title, House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time, which provides the source material for the new Showtime series starring Don Cheadle, thoroughly explores that premise. But to enjoy the television show, that very premise may need to be explained to viewers. In fact, for many the logic of the show may need to even address a simpler question: What is a management consultant?

It’s not a stupid question ask. Their livelihoods rely heavily on their ability to exist within the ambiguity of necessity that comes from fiscal figures being high but not quite right. They seem to solve problems in some way. Or perhaps act as harbingers of problems. Or are they opportunists? Experts? Swindlers? Who knows? Consultants know and it is usually in their best interest financially to make sure you don’t. Consultancy in general isn’t typically even a career you see explored on the small screen or any screen for that matter. It’s used at best as a plot tool or a cheeky code word for a characters occupation or role. (Peter Bishop on Fringe was brought on board as a consultant for the FBI.)

Sadly, House of Lies isn’t really about the world of management consultants either. Not really. It purports to be but where there exists subtlety and nuance and intrigue in Kihn’s text and the industry itself, House of Lies asks us simply to find Cheadle endearing. Unlike the book, which argues a sort of malicious conspiracy orchestrated by management consultants, the show doesn’t implicitly define the industry, it chooses rather to rely on cliches to present a shoddy anti-hero in Cheadle’s character, Marty Kaan.

Kaan’s the head of a team from the #2 ranked management consultancy company in the country. He’s a bit of a womanizer, but a sympathetic one. He’s a single father struggling to raise a unique son. In the series premiere, Kaan anxiously goes up against his sociopathic ex-wife (his ascription) and somehow comes out on top, overcoming the greedy bank execs.

“Overcome” is perhaps too strong a word. Kaan makes a devious deal with the bankers after portraying them as corrupt, their image as tarnished, and their prospects as bleak, inextricably aligning the consultant’s amorality with that of the financial sector. But the problem is we know the story of the big bad banks, subprime loans, and the housing bubble. They’re not good people. But how do Kaan and his team fit into all of this? What is a management consultant? House of Lies won’t answer that very basic question for you in any meaningful way. The profession is treated unprofessionally (silly restaurant fights and the lack of anything that represents actual work); the supposed cynicism and amoralism of a show about corporate culture and greed and misdoings (with “Lies” in the title) is just insincere and impotent; and the plot just suffers because of this.

After one episode, House of Lies doesn’t seem to have the foundation to stand on its own. It needs to more effectively utilize the fodder of the real corporate world of management consultancy and not merely pretend to. Unless that’s the joke. The lie. The swindle. If so, lol. Kristen Bell iz hawt!